Vatican II and Justice in the World

Dr. Paul Hwang – Director of ALL Forum

Gaudium et Spes and Justice in the World

In this year we celebrate the 50 th anniversary of publication of the Justice in the world , the final document of the 2 nd World Bishops’ Synod in 1971. As we have seen often in this section of the newsletter, the document was not born out of nothing. It has had much to do with and been much influenced by Vatican II especially Gaudium et Spes or Joy and Hope (1965), one of the most important documents of the first world pastoral council. Indeed, before the Vatican II documents, it could find its trace in the Mother an Teacher (1961), or Mater et Magistra, and Peace in the World (1963) or Pacem et Terris , the both encyclicals written by Pope John 23. It was Gaudium et Spes which clearly provided the idea of the just economy order in the world (no. 85) for the first time among the Church’s official documents.

We could find a more integrated perspective on Catholic Social teachings when it comes to relation of justice, peace and equality. Firstly, it shows a close connection between justice and peace issues by stating “In order to build up peace above all the causes of discord among men, especially injustice, which foment wars must be rooted out.”(no. 83, and no. 84-87). Secondly, from the perspective of justice, equality, and human dignity, it suggests ‘genuine human development’ as follows: “To satisfy the demands of justice and equity, strenuous efforts must be made, without disregarding the rights of persons or the natural qualities of each country, to remove as quickly as possible the immense economic inequalities, which now exist and in many cases are growing and which are connected with individual and social discrimination.” (no.66)

Action for Justice as Constitutive Dimension of the Gospel

These paragraphs in Gaudium et Spes mentioned right above and the encyclical Populorum Pregresio or On the Development of Peoples (1967) written by Pope Paul XI, which succeeded the spirit of the former, directly influenced the Church’s perception of justice and peace as if it is just one concept. Similarly, the document Justice in the World raised the issue of justice in earnest by proclaiming that “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.” (no.6, stress added.) It also insisted that “Christian love of neighbor and justice cannot be separated. For love implies an absolute demand for justice, namely a recognition of the dignity and rights of one’s neighbor.” (no.34).

Church Renewal or Reform in the Document

One of most important paragraphs in relation to Church renewal after Vatican II in Catholic Social Teachings was stated in the Justice in the world by stating “While the Church is bound to give witness to justice, she recognizes that anyone who ventures to speak to people about justice must first be just in their eyes. Hence we must undertake an examination of the modes of acting and of the possessions and life style found within the Church herself.” (no. 40). No Church document mentioned justice within the Church as seen in the document. It goes on to point out “We also urge that women should have their own share of responsibility and participation in the community life of society and likewise of the Church. We propose that this matter be subjected to a serious study employing adequate means: for instance, a mixed commission of men and women, religious and lay people, of differing situations and competence.” (no. 42-43) It also recognized and stressed just wage and important role in the Church for lay people: “Those who serve the Church by their labor, including priests and religious, should receive a sufficient livelihood and enjoy that social security which is customary in their region. Lay people should be given fair wages and a system for promotion. We reiterate the recommendations that lay people should exercise more important functions with regard to Church property and should share in its administration.”(no. 41) In this sense the document surely is one of the champions for Church renewal in many aspects.

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